SUN Hockey Pool

NHL, players set the finish line at 50-50

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media in Toronto, Ont., Oct. 18, 2012. (STAN BEHAL/QMI...

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media in Toronto, Ont., Oct. 18, 2012. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:09 PM ET

Out of the smoking rubble of Thursday -- the only thing NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA honcho Donald Fehr could agree on is it was a crappy day -- there was something good.

I think it’s good, anyway.

It appears we now have a finish line: a 50-50 split on hockey-related revenue.

The NHL offered to go 50-50 Tuesday and the players didn’t recoil in disgust from it Thursday. How everybody gets to the finish line is now the challenge, but at least the “core economic issue” now seems to have been defined.

The owners and players are like the only contestants in a three-legged race, tied together and with the finish line in sight, but no clue how to get in sync and move towards it. They both want to move with their right foot first, which, for anybody who has been in a three-legged race, means you fall flat on your face.

The trick now is for one to convince the other the best way to go is moving their right and left legs in tandem and go from there.

The three proposals from Fehr and the players Thursday offered different scenarios to get to 50-50, though the NHL contends that under the NHLPA proposals, after running the numbers, the division would never quite get to 50-50. Under the third proposal, for instance, the league said the make-good on getting to 50-50 and honouring the value of current contracts would be worth about $650-million over the next five years.

Are the two sides willing to split that to get a deal that saves a $3.3 billion business?

A challenge remains that the players’ demand to be paid all the money they are owed on their existing contracts, even though when they signed those deals they were (it is assumed) cognizant of the fact that the value of those contracts was not fixed for their term but floating and subject to the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement. The players had to give back frequently over the course of the last CBA. There were also seasons when they got their escrow money and more back.

Last season was about a wash.

Not every dollar of those deals was guaranteed.

So, given that not every dollar was guaranteed, that opens the door for some flexibility in the interpretation of what those contracts are ultimately worth.

Not that having established that principle brings us much closer to the finish line if the players insist on getting every dollar on their existing deals, but, hey, give it a try. Everything is up for negotiation, right?

That includes the length of the season.

The NHL held out the hope they could get an 82-game season in by concluding a deal within the next week. Let’s face it: the 82-game season is not sacrosanct. The precedent was set, of course, in 2005 when the whole season was wiped out. There was a 48-game season after Lockout 1.0 in 1994-95.

There has been a lot of talk about the NHL’s Winter Classic being the point of no return in talks. In the big picture, that doesn’t make sense. Are you going to toilet the chance for two months of playoff revenue and avoid the embarrassment of becoming the first league to not hand out its trophy TWO times (in the last nine years) because of a labour dispute simply for a one-day extravaganza?

More money is going to be made by having a 50-game season that starts in late January -- without a Winter Classic -- and concludes with a full playoffs than will ever be made at the Winter Classic.

Who’s to say the Winter Classic couldn’t be rescheduled, anyway?

The mood was bleak Thursday, but there’s still time for a resolution and to save the season.

There are supposedly smart guys on both sides.

Surely the odds are better than 50-50 somebody can figure out how to get to 50-50.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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